Santu Mofokeng was born in the township of Soweto, Johannesburg. He began to develop his photographic abilities from his teenage years as a street photographer, while working as a darkroom assistant, and then as a news photographer. His independent style is apparent in his renowned photographs of apartheid South Africa. Eschewing the conventional method of documenting white-on-black violence, many of his photographs feature shadows, mist and movement, elements that conceal rather than expose.
In 1982, he started working for Afrapix, a photographers’ collective aimed to propose photography as activism. His research, especially during the years he worked at the African Studies Institute, was also focused on his role as a documentary photographer, his relationship with the people depicted and with the potential audience of his work.
Mofokeng’s Black Photo Album/Look at Me, 1890-1950, displayed for the first time at the Johannesburg Biennale in 1997, presents a collection of private portraits of black families that evokes Victorian representations. The work was discussed as part of the 2019 event ‘Representations of Identity in South African Photography’ hosted by Iniva.